What It’s Like Answering Calls at The Trevor Project's Suicide Prevention Lifeline
It’s been four years, now, since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the country. Fifty years have passed since the events at the Stonewall Inn burst upon the public consciousness, changing the conversation around LGBTQ+ rights forever.
These moments — and the thousand rebellions, both public and private, which came in between — led to great gains, both social and legal, for the LGBTQ+ community. But discrimination still weighs heavy on the shoulders of LGBT youth. According to the CDC, teens who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual are five times more likely to have attempted suicide than their heterosexual peers. And, while transgender children who are raised in accepting communities experience depression at about the same rate as cisgender children, kids who don’t find acceptance in their schools and at home have a high risk of suffering from mental illness. Approximately 40% of transgender people will try to end their lives as teens and adults.
These numbers are discouraging, but this next one is all about hope.
1-866-488-7386 is the number for TrevorLifeline, a suicide prevention lifeline for LGBTQ+ youth under the age of 25. If you dial it, Connor Johnston may be the one to pick up the phone.
Johnston was a teenager when he first called the Lifeline and “felt heard and seen as my whole self” for the first time. Now, he is a volunteer crisis counselor at The Trevor Project, working to extend that same feeling of “love” to others. We asked him what it’s like to talk people through some of the darkest moments in their lives, and what inspired him to take on a job that many would find difficult.
The Mighty: Where are you from?
Connor Johnston: I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, and now I’ve lived in NYC for 8 years.
What drew you to volunteer at the Lifeline?
CJ: I originally called TrevorLifeline when I was in high school. Growing up I never really felt comfortable with who I was and I felt like I had to hide a huge part of myself to everyone in my life. Talking to the counselor on TrevorLifeline was the first time I ever felt heard and seen as my whole self. Years later, after I graduated from college, I felt the need to give back to the community that provided me with that kind of love years ago. I saw volunteering at The Trevor Project as the final step in my coming out journey.
Is taking calls stressful?
CJ: No – it’s not stressful in the way that we view stress today, because it’s not a negative experience at all. Yes, understandably, there are moments that get intense. There are moments where subjects come up that we’re conditioned by society to hide from or feel ashamed about. And during those moments the heart starts pounding a bit more, sure. But I’ve learned to embrace talking through those moments, because, for our callers, it may be the first time in their lives that they’ve ever had someone who wants to hear about the hard times. I’ve erased the stigma around suicide, mental health issues, self-harm, etc. because I’ve spoken to real people whose personalities, stories, strength, and ability to love are greater than those things that bring them down.
What are some memorable moments you’ve had volunteering at the Lifeline?
CJ: Tons. More than I can even begin to talk about. There are still certain callers whose stories I remember. Sometimes something will make me remember a specific caller and it fills me with gratitude that I am fortunate enough to have been the person who spoke to that individual. I don’t think I’ll ever forget some callers’ stories.
But something else that I want to mention is the bonds I’ve created with my fellow Lifeline counselors. Every single person who works on the Lifeline is a hero. Every single person is outstanding in their own right, and it’s been so incredible to join the Trevor community and build friendships and share our experiences on the Lifeline with people who just get it. Yes, we go through some hard times together, but it’s also a ton of fun to work on the Lifeline.
Are there any commonalities between the stories you hear?
CJ: Yes and no. The specific details about certain peoples’ experiences are as vast as you can imagine, and everyone feels differently about those experiences in a variety of ways. But the common thread between all of our callers is that they’re all such incredible people, and it’s such a gift to be able to talk to them. It’s made me realize that we as people are much larger than the things that bring us down.
How has volunteering changed your perspective?
CJ: I’ve learned that things are still really incredibly hard for a lot of people out there. I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by a community of people who are open-minded and accepting. But so many people in this country aren’t as lucky. Conversion therapy is still legal in 32 states. I’m reminded every single time I’m on the Lifeline that we still have a lot of work to do in our social and political spheres.
Many of our readers struggle with suicidal thoughts. Is there anything you’d like them to know?
CJ: Our phone number at TrevorLifeline is 1-866-488-7386. Call us. It’s okay to feel down. It’s okay to feel like you hate yourself. It’s okay for things to make you really angry, or upset, or feel defeated. There is a whole world of people out there who are ready to hear your story. We’re willing to listen and hear what you have to say. We want to understand where you’re coming from. You are not alone.
If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or suicidal, contact The Trevor Project’s TrevorLifeline 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386. Counseling is also available 24/7 via chat every day at TheTrevorProject.org/Help, or by texting 678-678.
For those outside of the LGBTQ+ plus community, you can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.